I still get chills whenever I hear 12 o’clock from Vangelis’ Heaven & Hell album. It’s a hauntingly atmospheric piece, vaguely akin to those Ennio Morricone soundtracks featuring the voice of Edda Del’Orso. It’s light on the synths but rich with melody and grace; which is what most of the album is. It dates from 1975 and Vangelis’ Nemo period, when he lived in London and operated from his private studio near Marble Arch. Departing from his prog rock roots, this is a classical album really, a mix of (surprisingly few) keyboards, voice and percussion that would become a defining, and returning, sound for Vangelis with later works like Mask, Mythodea and soundtracks like 1492 and Alexander. Indeed, listening to Heaven & Hell you can hear where all those later works came from. It all comes across as a huge production, a battle between the forces of Heaven & Hell represented by the chaos of Hell and the serenity of Heaven; considering when it was produced its frankly a remarkable album and one of my very favourite Vangelis works. It’s not neccessarily easy listening- Vangelis deliberately created a cacophony of sound to represent Hell, an inferno of madness that assaults the ears, purposely at odds with the ethereal grace of the Heaven sequences, particularly that of Movement 3, which is the piece I first encountered, as it was used as the title theme for Carl Sagan’s wonderful Cosmos documentary series of 1980 (I guess Vangelis owes a great deal to Sagan’s show, as it utilised a great deal of Vangelis’ music; there was even a single released here in the UK of Movement 3).
The version of Heaven & Hell released on CD is pretty infuriating though, and has been in its various remasters, as the individual tracks from the original vinyl album have been merged into two single tracks, that mirror the albums side a/side b. So while I’m referring to tracks as 12 o’clock and Movement 3, or Intestinal Bat, it’ll really mean nothing to anyone buying the CD and being faced with Heaven & Hell Part 1 and Heaven & Hell Part 2, particularly as the suites force you to hear all the ‘hell’ and the ‘heaven’ mixed into long music tracks. Only longtime fans who owned the album will know what I’m referring to. Its a lazy and dispiriting situation, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Vangelis was behind it. Its all very well having the music tracks segue from one to the other but the CD should be enabled to go to the parts the listener wants to listen to. As an album its a powerful and mind-bending musical work but the listener should have the option to dip into it. Oh well, I guess that’s what mp3-editing software is for, and I’ve ‘edited’ down my CD rip into separate tracks- easily done but it shouldn’t have to have been done. There you go Vangelis my first moan, and not my last (you see, being a Vangelis fan is a very trying/rewarding/infuriating thing, as I’ll show when I feature other Vangelis works on this blog).
The album is ridiculously cheap on mp3; just £1.78 on Amazon.co.uk which just boggles me, frankly. Whatever happened to the music industry? No wonder a ‘proper’ remaster on physical CD will likely never happen, there’s no market for it anymore when you’re practically giving away mp3 versions of inferior masters/sample rates. Far cry from buying these things on vinyl and cassette back in the good old days and really listening to it. But anyway, before I digress into generation-gap ‘good old days’ nonsense, I’ll just point out if you’ve never heard this you really should, as the price of the mp3 is ideal for a curiosity dip. You may hate it but you may really, really, really fall in love with it- and that’s got to be worth the risk, eh?
Anyway, I thought I’d start trawling through the Vangelis discography as he has a new compilation album out in a few weeks, and soon after an album of his Chariots Of Fire music that he’s reworked for the London stage show that cleverly/cynically (delete as appropriate) ties into the coming Olympics hysteria (no, I’m not a fan of our Olympics 2012. The media has gone bonkers over here). Well, for us Vangelis fans releases are pretty thin these days so anything new deserves to be trumpeted/celebrated, even if it is yet another compliation/sad marketing cash-in.
The glorious heyday of Vangelis’ Nemo era is long ago I’m afraid- so long ago, so clear, to quote the title of a song from Heaven & Hell infact.